Chapter 6 - The New Guy
The Dreamer known as 'Mom' is a sweet woman with long red hair and a pretty face that always seems to be smiling. Years before she became a Dreamer, Mom excelled as a receptionist because of her cheerful demeanor and her love of meeting new people. As such, it came as no surprise that her floor became what the Dreamers now call 'The Lobby'.
Mom's floor bears little resemblance to any of the places where she worked as a norm; rather, it is how she feels a lobby should be. The bulk of the Lobby's main room is filled with furniture that is pleasant to look at and worn enough to be comfortable. The floor is covered with a thick and fluffy carpet that is easy on the feet and the eyes. Although the color of the carpet and walls change according to Mom's whim, they always seem to emanate a peaceful, restful feeling among those visiting. The carpets will also will massage your feet if you walk on them barefoot, which can take some people by surprise.
The most prominent feature of the Lobby is the great oak desk that encircles the place Mom sits in her electric lounging chair. The desk contains more than just her computer, though … and yes, she has a computer. Max set up a network within the Elsewhere, mostly for storing information, though it's rumored she gossips with the solitaire program on occasion. No, the desk also contains a glass display of several strange artifacts: an old silver ring, a paper crane with a red kiss on the side, a two-headed coin displaying the face of a deity known as the Dreamweaver, and a chewed pen with a sticker that read 'Use the door next time', just to name a few. While these hardly seemed like the things a person might want to display, they were more than just objects; they held the memories of Dreamers within their simple forms, memories that said Dreamers chose to forget for reasons they no longer remembered. Mom kept them safe, and more importantly, away from their Creators. Ironically, the first thing most people want to do when they learn they willingly forgot something is usually to try to find out what it was they forgot.
Two was arguing with Mom when One stepped out of the elevator. At the sight of One, Two let out a snigger; half of One's hair was sticking up at odd angles, and he had huge black bags under his eyes. "You look like hell, dude."
"Good gracious, One." Mom asked, hurrying from around the desk to feel One's forehead. "You look awful! Are you feeling sick?"
"I'm fine, Mom." One told her. "Just a bit tired, that's all."
Two scoffed, "Tired? Last time I saw you, you said you were gonna get some sleep!"
"I tried." One held a hand to his head, his eyes shut. "I kept dreaming about that norm I ran into earlier: the ruins of Earth, people suffering … horrible stuff."
"Dude, that was a month ago! I know I haven't seen you around, but I didn't think you'd been sleeping the whole time!"
A month? It felt like he had been dreaming for a long time, but a whole month? It had been a dreamless sleep too: no Dream Realm shenanigans. Just as he started to wonder as to the cause, something of his conversation with Teach abruptly floated across One's mind, namely the part where he told Teach that he wasn't going to help so much as a kitten out of a tree for at least a month.
Staring at the ceiling, One shouted, "I'm not taking the assignment, Teach!"
"Teach's been hounding One again," Two explained, seeing Mom's questioning glance. "Got some bug up his ass."
"Language!" Mom shot a small spark of electricity at Two, making him yelp and clutch his numb arm. Reverting to her kind demeanor, she turned her attention back to One. "I can't believe he'd try to send you out again after how long you were gone last time. I mean, you just got back! Well, don't you worry. I'll have a word with Teach."
One sat down on a nearby couch, muttering, "Don't bother; you know the way he is."
Patting his friend's shoulder sympathetically, Two said, "Why don't you head back to your floor and relax for a bit? Watch a few movies, play a few games, that sort of thing."
"Nah, not tired right now," One said, "I think I'll get something to eat. Want to come with?"
Before Two could reply, Mom said, "Just a moment; I have something I need to discuss with you."
One and Two said simultaneously, "What?"
"Your training duty. There's a new Dreamer in the Elsewhere."
One groaned, "Cyber-cripes, Mom! That's not fair!"
Two, on the other hand, found One's predicament extremely funny. "I'm surprised at you, One! You know perfectly well that it's every Dreamer's responsibility to help train new Dreamers."
"I'm glad you feel that way," Mom handed the folder to Two, a smirk on her face. "Teach feels that you would be perfect for the job, seeing as you did such a good job with finding and training One."
Two's laughter froze in his throat. "Wha … but One taught himself before I even got to him! One, help me out here!"
One, however, was already halfway through the door to what was at that moment a spiraling stairwell. As he shut the door behind him, he heard Two mutter, "Son of a flat-chested lesbian."
Truth be told, One would have much rather had Two's help finding the Kitchen, but training new Dreamers was an extremely time-consuming and exhausting business. Two would have probably asked One to help, and then disappeared at the nearest opportunity, like he had done every time they teamed up. Besides, One had his own problems with which to deal; he was still having a hard time shutting out the images from his dreams: cities in ruins, innocent people being massacred by Revs, and other horrible stuff that Teach had no business sticking in One's subconscious.
One shook his head, trying to cast all the images out of his mental storage. Food was the immediate priority. Pushing Teach and Two from his mind, he considered what he'd get to eat … that is, if he ever found the Kitchen.
"Shame I didn't take Mom's elevator." One said aloud.
The movement of floors within the Elsewhere is, as mentioned before, difficult to predict. A stairwell may lead to the Matinee for weeks, only lead to the Library a day later for no discernible reason. Teach had a theory that it tied in with each floor's corresponding Dreamer in some way, but One never had much of a head for Teach's lessons on the physics (or lack thereof) of being a Dreamer. Mom's elevator, however, can go to any of the floors instantly; you only have to know the number she has designated to each floor. One's was nine, and he was fairly certain Two's was five. Beyond that, he was pretty much just guessing. He was fairly certain the Kitchen was either six or seven, not that it mattered. Still, it gave his mind something to play with as he finished making his way up the ever-widening spiral staircase.
Today, the stairwell ended at a door with which One was not familiar. Gray Room doors commonly manifested in a similar manner to the CPD, that is to say, blending in to whatever walls they were around at the moment. This door, however, wasn't even remotely trying to blend in; rather, with its neon bulbs, bright fluorescent paint, and blinking lights, it seemed to be trying its damnedest to catch as much attention as possible.
After a few moment's contemplation, his curiosity got the better of him. He pushed the doors open and stepped into the largest arcade he had ever seen. He stared at the sea of arcade cabinets that surrounded him, his ears picking up a veritable orchestra of electronic beeps, bloops, and midi music.
One glanced around the floor for some sign of a resident, be he or she a Dreamer or otherwise, but at the moment, the floor seemed empty. Hunger temporarily forgotten, he ventured through what is now known as 'The Arcade'. Most seemed to be from Earth, their appearance bringing with them a wave of nostalgia. Some were standard arcades with their bright buttons and bulbous joysticks. Others were much more elaborate machines, designed like cockpits of fighter jets and spaceships. One particularly impressive cabinet included a full body harness, a necessary feature seeing as the orb-like cabinet rotated in all directions.
One continued on to the center of the floor, where a single arcade game stood out from the rest. It consisted of a large screen and control console supported by an impressive sound system. two metal pads sat on the ground in front of the screen, each pad having a button for each cardinal direction.
"I remember this!" A grin spread across his face, One stepped onto one of the metal pads. It was a rhythm game that used the player's feet rather than his or her hands. The game mechanic was fairly simple on some songs, frustratingly difficult on others. One looked for a way to activate the game, but like all the other machines, the dance simulator had no visible coin slot.
"Allow me!" A pale and slender hand shot forward and tapped the screen.
Instantly, the screen erupted into a dazzling array of colors, the mammoth speakers began thumping out a dance beat, and neon lighting installed throughout the machine flickered and pulsed in time with the music.
One glanced at the strange young man standing on the pad next to him. The anime character drawn on the young man's shirt coupled with the kanji on his sleeves seemed to suggest some Asian affiliation, but with his pale skin, bright blue eyes, and curly brown hair, the young man was clearly about as Asian as a grilled cheese sandwich.
"And you are?" One asked, raising an eyebrow.
The young Dreamer struck a pose he obviously thought was impressive, singing, "Wong Fo-oh Lee-ee, massster of the dance!"
One scoffed. "So you say. Let's see what you've got!"
Fifteen minutes later, One was clutching the support bar attached to the back of his pad, trying desperately to catch his breath. Wong wasn't even breathing heavily.
"Okay … I give. You're definitely better at this than I am." One said between breaths.
Wong grinned, showing a wide array of white teeth. "Oh, that was nothing, Ichi-san. That was just a teeny tiny little warm-up. Still, if you want to take a break …"
Without missing a beat, he snapped his fingers. A chair appeared behind One; it seemed to be balancing on a single leg, but seemed sturdy enough as One plopped down in it.
As he caught his breath, One watched Wong hop, flip, spin, and twirl across the dance pads with astounding speed and dexterity, his long curly brown hair flying in all directions. Wong finished his song with an amazing triple flip in mid-air and hopped off of the metal pad.
His breathing fairly normal, One asked, "I don't suppose you know the way to the Kitchen."
"Indeed I do! I had Eddicious and Berticai whip me up a big batch of ramen. I am still a bit hungry though. You?"
"Sure. Could you-"
Not waiting to hear the rest, Wong grabbed One by the arm and shouted, "To the Kitchen!"
The next thing he knew, One found himself being pulled at a speed usually reserved for people who discover they have a large slobbering beast behind them though given the nature of the Elsewhere, said monster could very well just be asking for directions. Wong's hand clamped on One's arm like a vice grip, the two Dreamers slid down a fire-escape pole, ran past a confused Mom in the Lobby, dashed up another staircase to the Workshop, leapt through Max's matter-transporter, bounced off an enormous pinball paddle, and navigated through a maze-like series of hallways before finally reaching the Kitchen. Once inside, Wong released his grip. One promptly collapsed to the ground, gasping for breath.
"Shoulda gone back the Lobby," he wheezed.
The Kitchen was a steaming mess of ovens and stoves, cooking implements hanging from the ceiling, and ingredients in varying stages of freshness. Tantalizing smells hung in the air like a low-hanging fog, strange combined yet still delicious. After a few moments, two men emerged from the steam rising from the cooking area, one short and a bit on the rotund side while the other was tall and thin. They were dressed as cooks, though not of the same kind; the short looked like the kind of cook in a greasy spoon, while the tall fellow looked like the sort of chef you'd find in a very high-class restaurant.
The shorter man called out, "Well bomb my dodongos! It's Narrator Number One! I thought I heard someone say you were back!"
Before One could reply, the fat Dreamer slapped his thin friend on the shoulders, saying, "Make our friend a plate of our famous country fried chicken strips, heavy on the spice, 'kay Eddie?"
Eddie nodded in a very elaborate manner.
Wong piped in, "And another bowl of ramen for me!"
The thin Dreamer bobbed his head again and wandered back into the wall of steam.
Throwing a sweaty arm around One, Bert gave a hearty laugh. "So, scuttlebutt around the Elsewhere's that you flat out refused an assignment from Teach. About time, if you ask me."
Bert let out another boisterous laugh. "How long were you here between the last two assignments? A week at most, if I recall. Teach barely gives you a chance to take a breath before starting you on something new. I can't believe he didn't even wait a day before trying to shove another job on you."
One muttered, "You and me both."
"Teach is a fuddy-duddy!" Wong piped in. "He yelled at me just because I borrowed a few of his books to prop up one of my arcade cabinets. It was just a historical treatise. I mean, who really reads those anyway?"
"Teach." One replied dourly. "Never saw the appeal myself."
Bert snapped his fingers, "That reminds me. Max wanted to see you about a project he's working on. He hit a bit of a snag with-"
One held up a hand to stay Bert's words. "I'd rather not hear about it. In fact, don't tell him you saw me, okay?"
Bert nodded, a wide smile across his face. "Taking a break from the rigmarole of being a Dreamer, eh? I don't blame ya a bit. Why, just last week, I … oh, there's Eddie with your food."
Eddie emerged from the wall of steam with a fresh plate of crispy chicken strips and a steaming bowl of noodles. He navigated through the hazard-filled area behind the counter with practiced ease before snapping to attention before One and presenting him the plate.
One took his plate, saying gratefully, "Much appreciated, man."
Eddie nodded, a small smile on his face.
Bert slapped One on the shoulder again, almost making One drop his food. "Well, we'd better get back to work. We've got a feast to prepare."
Seeing One's curious look, Bert explained, "Our boss just had a daughter, and you know how it is with heads of state; they just have to throw a party. I'm not complainin', mind. Anyway, take it easy, One!"
One waved at them both as they disappeared into the steam.
Wong commented, "Nice guys. Does Bert ever talk?"
"I've never heard him say anything." One said, distracted. Teach was probably waiting for him to come back to his floor, no doubt to try and push the assignment on him. What One needed was a distraction so he could slip into his private rooms.
One glanced at Wong. The newest member of the Elsewhere Incorporate was already slurping down the last few mouthfuls of his ramen. A smile slowly crossed One's face.
"Say, Wong," One said, putting his arm around the newest Dreamer's shoulders. "Would you mind doing me a little favor?"